Interview: Lana Del Rey on the Leaks, the Imitators & the Haters
By Jillian Mapes
By 10:30 p.m, almost 100,000 people have filed out of Chicago’s Grant Park following the first day of Lollapalooza 2013, held a couple weeks back. As the mass of coming-down kids move toward the exits, Lana Del Rey sits at a picnic table backstage, just far enough away from the noise. It’s so dark where she sits that until you come close enough to catch her eye, the only thing you can really see is the cherry of her cigarette. This post-festival scene is in stark contrast to her “pretty crazy” headlining performance earlier that night.
“I had to go around the world for two years just to have an audience in Chicago,” she told Radio.com. “I mean, I could just have been unpopular forever, that probably would have been a lot less tiring.”
A year and a half later, after all the panning and parodies of Born to Die have come and gone, there’s a touch of fame PTSD in how Lana Del Rey speaks about herself. She references her “not great welcoming into the American public eye
,” but the truth of the matter is, we’re in the midst of the second coming of Lana Del Rey. When tastemakers grow tired, artists of a poppy temperament can try the most mainstream, “of the people” medium: radio.
Those who wrote off Lana Del Rey may be surprised to learn that she has a No. 1 song on a Billboard chart (Dance/Mix Show Airplay) this week. And a Top 5 (Hot Rock Songs, where she has multiple songs charting). And a Top 15 (Digital Songs). And, most noteworthy of all, a Top 20 on the Hot 100, where French house DJ/producer Cedric Gervais’ remix of “Summertime Sadness” currently sits at No. 16. Originally released on Born to Die, “Summertime Sadness” has been given new life through its remixes, with Gervais’ version racking up adds at Top 40 stations nationwide throughout the last month.
Meanwhile, “Young and Beautiful,” Lana’s contribution to The Great Gatsby soundtrack, is receiving airplay on alternative, not pop, stations. Radio isn’t quite sure what sure what to do with Lana Del Rey, but stations are playing her nonetheless. And not surprisingly, she couldn’t be more thrilled. She discussed all this and more in a meandering chat, including her plans for a new album, which she says have been thrown off by the recent barrage of leaks of her songs.
“To be honest, what really happened was, three years ago somebody remotely accessed my hard drive, so even songs I’ve never emailed to myself [were accessed],” she explained. “There are hundreds of them.”
Radio.com: Seeing your set tonight, it’s clear that your stage performance is more elaborate now than it was when you first started touring behind Born To Die, particularly because of the video vignettes. What were trying to achieve with this incarnation of your live show?
Lana Del Rey: Well, I’m sort of influenced each day by whatever I come upon. Like I don’t listen to that much new music, but I actually really love Father John Misty, who kind of reminded me of my roots. I went back to listening to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, whose life path really influenced my life path 10 years ago when I was 18. For the visuals, sometimes before the songs even come to me, I definitely have a picture first of something I want to paint with words. I remember when I was 16 and I read Howl by Allen Ginsberg; that was the first time I kind of realized you could paint pictures with words and I wanted to do that.
I actually kind of met my directorial soulmate with Anthony Mandler. I always give him these mood boards and storyboards that he goes through and makes all of the visions I have come to life. He never says no and he asks me why do I want it to be about the kindness of strangers, like in the case of “Ride” [the video/short film] — why am I with different men and things like that? I tell him it’s not about being submissive to men or anything like that. It’s about not really knowing anyone close to you who can help you, and being really lucky enough to finding people who you just meet randomly, who can take care of you until you can take care of yourself.
This is to say, the visuals kind of come from ideas that I think are important. But when it comes to the live show itself, that’s the one thing I really don’t think too much about. I’m kind of traditional in that way, where I don’t have much of a magic show. I’m just kind of there to sing and I don’t have too too much to say.
Something that struck me tonight was that I was standing among all of these young girls and I heard at least five times, “I want to be her.” This whole festival is full of girls in flower headbands like you’re wearing right now. Are you aware of these things?
Lana: Wow. Well, my reaction is that it’s pretty surreal considering I didn’t have a great welcoming into the American public eye. I kind of feel lucky enough to have written those songs for myself and to tell my own story to myself. I think it’s important to be a witness to your own life through writing. And for me, I thought that would be where it’s really going to end because I’m not going to be accepted — that is my fate. But I’ve learned to go along with things. I toured all over Europe, which was totally madness — a lot of people, big crowds. I was kind of leading a double life, cause I’d come home to America and things were very quiet — I’d go about my day and take care of my brother and sister who live with me. So in a way, I’m just glad that nothing’s going wrong.
Considering this young female audience you have, do you feel any pressure to be a role model?
Lana: Well I think the good thing is, I do actually aim to live my life with grace and dignity, if anyone felt like emulating it. I know I look a certain way sometimes, or cast a certain vibe. But I really don’t like to be in trouble. I like to live a good life, it is important to me.
At a certain point, though, doesn’t your act become performance art?
Lana: Well it’s kind of become that. When the audience gets bigger, it becomes less for you and more of a performance, even though I’m not really a natural performer. I love to write, I love to record in the studio – that’s what I love.
Speaking of, are you working on any new music right now?
Lana: I was until my record got leaked last week, ‘cause my life is like completely invaded. But yeah, I’m writing songs that I really like right now. They’re really low-key and stripped back, all sort of West Coast inspired. The further along I’ve gotten, the more I stay working with like the same four people. Like Dan [Daniel Heath, who co-wrote “Blue Jeans”], who’s not into pop music but rather, a composer for scores and studied under Hans Zimmer. Him and my boyfriend Barrie [Barrie-James O'Neill, of Glasgow folk-rock band Kassidy]. But I want to work with Lou Reed, and I’d like to kind of keep things low-key and cool.
I think the thought was that some of those leaked demos were of songs you wrote much earlier in your career.
Lana: Well some of them were, but some of them, like “Black Beauty,” weren’t…
Are you going to move forward with work on them, or do you feel too discouraged because of the leaks?
Lana: I do feel discouraged, yeah. I don’t really know what to put on the record. But I guess I could just put them on and see what happens. Each time I write… I’ll never write a song if I don’t think it’s going to be perfect for the record.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself.
Lana: That’s the way I kind of do it, which means I don’t write all the time. My muse is really fleeting. Sometimes it’s six months. I don’t really push it. ‘Cause you have to go do things to write about. You have to go get into to trouble to write about it. (Laughs)
Do you feel like where your life is at right now is more conducive to writing music more organically than before Born To Die came out and you were so shrouded in hype?
Lana: Yeah, I didn’t like that. I don’t think it’s been conducive to writing, being on the road and all that. I don’t really feel inspired to write at all, but beforehand, when I was in Brooklyn for nine years… I was kind of a night owl and just walked around and met weird people. That was me picking up life experiences and meshing them into my own. That really did it for me. Actually, Lollapalooza is my last live commitment. It’s too bad ‘cause it’s been such a long time since the last record. I really feel like I need six months to live again, time to be like, normal or abnormal. I don’t have anyone writing anything for me. It’s such an internal well and if it’s not full, it’s just not full.
You could work with outside songwriters. Are you open to that kind of thing a bit more now?
Lana: Yeah, I’m more open to it now, ‘cause personally I’m not really feeling it. (Laughs) Like this guy I worked with eight years ago, Steven Mertens, who made my first record [editor’s note: David Kahne is credited as the producer of her debut, 2010’s Lana Del Ray a.k.a. Lizzy Grant; Mertens is a member of the Brooklyn band Spacecamp]. He knew me really well. So I’d like to maybe go back and get reminded of why I thought I could be anything other than a writer. I’d like to maybe just go back and see what’s there.
Let’s talk for a second about new music you have released relatively recently. Did you write “Young and Beautiful” specifically for The Great Gatsby soundtrack, or was that a song you had previously penned but not released?
Lana: I wrote a different song, but when Baz Luhrmann heard it, he asked me if I could I write a memory cue for Daisy. So I sang him a chorus of “Young and Beautiful” that I had already — just a chorus — and he thought that’d be good for her. I wrote the whole thing after I watched her garden scenes.
Were you happy with how it was incorporated into the film?
Lana: Yeah. I mean, I’m always wary about super big projects that have a lot of glitz. But something weird that happened, was that “Young and Beautiful” got picked up by alternative stations. I come home [from touring Europe] after four months and “Summertime Sadness” is on the radio, too. So I’m grateful for that, ‘cause I love that song.
I want to go back to something you said earlier. You acknowledged that you didn’t have a great welcoming into the American public eye, but now, a year and half after Born to Die came out, you’re connecting with a new audience via the “Summertime Sadness” remix at Top 40 radio.
Lana: It just reinforces the fact that… not that nothing really matters, but that other people’s opinions don’t really matter because it can change on a dime. And if people are so ready to change, maybe they don’t have the strongest character. I’m not as interested in flip-floppers. I kind of feel blessed the more I go along. I have a young brother and sister, and it’s gotten really basic for me and become about the family. How are we all going to live together if I’m on the road? Are they going to come with me? Will I ever go home again? Probably not.
My new product manager, whom I’d never met before, brought me a SoundScan to show me that “Summertime Sadness” was being spun, a lot of times in L.A. and in New York. It kind of just doesn’t feel like it’s mine, ‘cause I’ve had such a hand up to my face for so long.